Le Moyne College students and staff work on a video of the Ceremony of Lessons and Carols. The traditional December service was pre-recorded this year and premiered Dec. 13 on the college’s YouTube channel. (Video screengrab from Le Moyne College Campus Ministry YouTube channel)
By Renée K. Gadoua | Contributing writer
Le Moyne College’s annual Ceremony of Lessons and Carols typically packs the Panasci Family Chapel as students, staff, faculty, and alumni mark the end of the semester and the Christmas season. This year, musicians and cantors addressed an empty chapel and wore masks as they prepared a recorded service, presented Dec. 13 on the college’s YouTube channel.
The virtual ceremony illustrates one way schools, parishes, and organizations are adapting Advent and Christmas events to meet safety guidelines as the COVID-19 crisis continues into its ninth month.
Christmas is the second major Christian observation that many Catholics worldwide have experienced virtually or with significantly decreased capacity. No public Holy Week or Easter worship was allowed in the Syracuse Diocese amid stay-at-home orders during the first wave of the novel coronavirus.
Occupancy in churches across the Syracuse Diocese will be capped at 33%, Bishop Douglas J. Lucia announced Dec. 14. That capacity is necessary to maintain the required 6-foot distancing, the diocese explained.
“Even if it’s a smaller celebration, we’re still celebrating Christmas,” said Father John Manno, pastor at Holy Family Church in Fairmount and vicar for clergy.
Churches worldwide are making changes this Christmas. Pope Francis will celebrate the Vatican’s Christmas Eve Mass at 7:30 p.m. so that worshippers can follow Italy’s 10 p.m. curfew, Catholic News Service reported.
In addition to an earlier start time, the Vatican will allow only a small congregation inside the basilica, the news service reported. People’s temperatures will be checked as they arrive; masks are required for the congregation and servers; the seating is socially distanced.
The Archdiocese of New York also will celebrate earlier Christmas Eve Masses. Cardinal Timothy Dolan will allow parishes this year to celebrate the first Mass of Christmas on Thursday, Dec. 24, at 2 p.m. rather than the typical 4 p.m. start time, according to Catholic New York.
In a letter to priests of the diocese, Cardinal Dolan said the change is due to “a time of international emergency” created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many parishes in the Syracuse Diocese had filled allotted seats for Christmas Masses by Dec. 14. Others have canceled or modified holiday events. Immaculate Conception in Fayetteville, for example, presented Curbside Cookies with Santa Dec. 6 rather than its traditional breakfast with Santa.
Holy Family typically draws about 4,200 weekend worshipers and more than 7,000 people at its seven Christmas Eve and Christmas Masses, Father Manno said. This year, the parish can accommodate about 1,500 worshipers at five Christmas Masses. The parish has been taking Christmas reservations since Nov. 15.
“The big thing about Christmas Eve is everybody is home and everybody wants to take the time to talk to each other,” he said. “We know that will be different this year.”
Parishioners “have been very gracious” about safety guidelines, he said. “They want to do everything to help us so we don’t have to close churches again.”
Missing from Christmas Eve services this year will be the parish’s full choir at 4 p.m. and carols before midnight Mass.
“When you’re processing in at 4 o’clock and a choir is singing ‘Oh Come, All Ye Faithful’ and the organ is playing, there’s a tremendous beauty in that,” he said. “We’ll miss that.”
Holy Family’s Christmas Masses usually begin with a deacon or child processing in with baby Jesus. Not this year, though. “We decided to keep it simple,” Father Manno said. “We want to do as much as we can to keep it safe.”
The bottom line: “More than anything I want to have Christmas Mass with the people,” he said. “Going through Easter without it was very hard.”
Father Manno urges people who cannot attend Mass in person to create a prayer space “so you can be present” as they watch the livestreamed service.
“I always try to remind people that Jesus is the light that came into the darkness of the world,” he said. “That light can never be dimmed by the darkness of COVID.”